The American Automobile Association AAA projects 43.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the fourth consecutive year of growth in holiday travel since 2008 when Thanksgiving travel fell by 25 percent.
The Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 21 to Sunday, Nov. 25. The Wednesday before the holiday is expected to be busiest travel day.
“Thanksgiving travel hit a decade low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” said AAA Western and Central New York President Tony Spada. “Since that year we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday. Americans continue to find ways to economize their budgets so they can gather with family for the holidays.
“While we do not yet know the full impact that Superstorm Sandy will have on travel from the Mid-Atlantic region, we do know that the impact for many Americans in that region is substantial,” continued Spada.
Despite the historically high prices paid by motorists this year, the national average has declined by nearly 40 cents a gallon since early October and should continue to drop through the end of the year, AAA believes. The national average price of gas for Thanksgiving from 2007-2011 is $2.75 a gallon.
In St. Lawrence County, drivers are paying prices ranging from $3.79 in Ogdensburg to prices approaching $4 a gallon elsewhere, according to GasBuddy.com.
The current national average price for regular unleaded gasoline is approximately $3.44 per gallon, about 2 cents more than one year ago. Drivers statewide are paying an average of $3.99 per gallon. The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular is $3.90 in the Buffalo-Niagara region, $3.89 in the Rochester area, and $3.80 in the Syracuse area as of today.
Highlights from AAA’s 2012 Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Forecast include:
· Ninety percent of travelers or 39.1 million to travel by automobile, an increase of 0.6 percent
· Holiday air travel to decline by 1.7 percent to 3.14 million travelers from 3.2 million in 2011
· Average distance traveled to decline to 588 miles from 706 miles, due in part to a decrease in the number of air travelers and Americans desire to economize budgets
· Median spending expected to drop 10 percent to $498, compared to $554 last year. Americans continue to prioritize travel while finding ways to economize
· The expected primary activity for 75 percent of travelers will be visiting with friends and relatives, followed by dining and shopping.
Among those surveyed, the majority of travelers plan to leave the Wednesday before the holiday (45 percent) and return the following Sunday (36 percent) with another 25 percent expecting to return on Monday, Nov. 26.
Automobile travel remains dominant mode of transportation
Approximately 90 percent of travelers or 39.1 million people plan to travel by automobile this Thanksgiving. This is a 0.6 percent increase over the 38.9 million people who traveled by auto last year. Air travel is expected to decrease 1.7 percent as 3.14 million holiday travelers will take to the skies. Approximately 1.3 million travelers will choose other modes of transportation, including rail, bus and cruise ship.
Hotel rates relatively flat, airfares decrease, car rental rates increase
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Thanksgiving holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to decrease one percent from a year ago to an average of $143 per night compared to $145 last year. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay one percent more, or an average of $104 per night.
For Thanksgiving holiday, the average lowest round-trip airfare is $188 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, an 11 percent decrease from last year. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $47, compared to $37 last year.
Average travel distance decreases
The average distance traveled during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is expected to be 588 miles, which is a decline of 16.7 percent from 706 miles last year.
Median spending down ten percent; visiting family, dining and shopping top activities
Median spending is expected to be $498, a 10 percent decrease compared to the expected median spending of intended holiday travelers ($554) in 2011.
While spending time with friends and relatives and dining are primary activities for nearly all holidays, it is even more relevant for Thanksgiving travelers. Spending time with family and friends (75 percent) and dining (56 percent) are the most popular activities planned by travelers. Despite lower median spending, half of all travelers (50 percent) plan to shop during the holiday which can be expected given Black Friday occurs during the holiday weekend.